Rwanda offers to host hundreds of migrants trapped in Libya

Illegal migrants at a detention center in Libya. [Photo: Internet]
Migrants trapped in Libyan detention centres where many have been subjected to abuse would be evacuated to Rwanda under an emergency plan being discussed with international humanitarian agencies and the EU, The Financial Times has reported. 

It added that the  proposal is part of an increasingly urgent effort to relocate thousands of migrants from Libya after a July air strike by forces opposed to the internationally recognised government in Tripoli killed dozens of people in a detention centre in the capital.

The Rwandan initiative stems from President Paul Kagame’s offer in late 2017 to accept up to 30,000 African migrants from Libya over several years, although it will initially involve a much smaller number of people.

The proposal to evacuate migrants voluntarily to Rwanda would help deal with the “pervasively inhumane detention policy facing those disembarked in Libya”, according to a letter sent last month by the UN’s International Organization for Migration and High Commissioner for Refugees, reported The Financial Times.

The letter was addressed to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission. Diyana Gitera, director-general for Africa at Rwanda’s foreign ministry, said the plan under discussion would involve her country accepting 500 refugees from Libya under an “emergency transit mechanism” funded by the EU and UN.

She said Mr Kagame welcomed the “opportunity for Rwanda to also support refugees stranded in Libya, at these difficult times”.

But sceptics warn that evacuating migrants from Libya to Rwanda would not necessarily rescue them from their current limbo, unable to go home or to travel onwards. Marwa Mohamed, head of advocacy for Lawyers for Justice in Libya, a non-governmental group with offices in London and Tripoli, said the Rwanda plan risked “outsourcing the problem to another country”. She added that the only viable long-term solution was for European countries to offer more pathways to migration, such as via resettlement or temporary working visas, The Financial Times reported.

“If you provide them with these legal routes, they don’t need to submit themselves into the hands of people smugglers and traffickers,” she said.

The UN estimates almost 5,000 migrants are in detention centres in Libya, about 70 per cent of them refugees and asylum seekers.

Vincent Cochetel, UN High Commissioner for Refugees special envoy for the central Mediterranean, confirmed his organisation was exploring the Rwanda evacuation option alongside the African Union.

The EU said it was following the Rwanda plan and stood ready to consider supporting it.

According to the Financial Times, Rwandan officials visited an internationally run evacuation facility in Libya’s neighbour Niger on a fact-finding mission last month.

Details have yet to be finalised, but international officials hope many of the evacuees will eventually be resettled elsewhere. Others may stay on in Rwanda, or return home. Some are likely to be from other eastern African states such as Ethiopia and Somalia — though many among them may be unable or unwilling to go back.

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